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Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Patriots 'survive' opening flurry

By Mike Reiss

Some initial thoughts after the four-hour frenzy to open free agency:

Over the last month, we've spent a lot of time in this space talking about the "Big 3" of Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer, and the Patriots' chances of retaining them.

All three hit the free-agent market at 4 p.m. ET, and it would have only taken one team to blow them away with an offer to make them ex-Patriots. At this point, it hasn't happened, which one could view as an early "victory" for the Patriots.

It was notable from this perspective that the Colts targeted Gosder Cherilus (Lions), the Bears went for Jermon Bushrod (Saints) and the Rams set up a visit with Jake Long (Dolphins). Those were viewed as three of the biggest tackle-needy teams, all candidates for Vollmer.

The Patriots would like Vollmer to return, but the sides weren't close in pre-free agency talks. While acknowledging that things can change in an instant, this early turn of events could potentially alter the picture and improve the possibility of Vollmer's return. A lot could depend on how the market settles after today's initial flurry (the Falcons are also reportedly close to re-signing left tackle Sam Baker).

As for Talib, outside of the Colts agreeing with Greg Toler (Cardinals), none of the big-name cornerbacks agreed to big deals on Tuesday. The Broncos set up a visit with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, per reports, but otherwise it was quiet, perhaps as a result of a saturated market at the position. Talib is a top priority for the Patriots, and this keeps the team in the mix as the initial risk of having another team swoop in with a blockbuster offer seems to have passed.

The same could be said for Welker at this point. Entering free agency, one wondered if a team such as the Broncos or Colts might pounce, but their initial targets came at other positions.

The Patriots want Welker to return, but the sides obviously have different ideas of a contract that works at this point. From this view, the Patriots "gambled" that their offer to Welker would reflect well once the market took shape. They might ultimately be proven correct, but there still could be a risk of alienating Welker -- a player whom Tom Brady called the "heart and soul" of the team last year -- in the process. And the longer Welker waits, the possibility grows that the Patriots could target someone else, such as Danny Amendola (Rams).

These are the current dynamics in play in an ever-changing market.

One NFL.com writer opined Tuesday that the Patriots had the most to lose on the first day of free agency. Turns out they didn't lose any of their "Big 3", surviving the early flurry.

For now.